Building the Next Generation of Stewards

Traditional Stewardship skills are important to the identity of Micronesian communities and also for helping protect their oceans in the face of climate change and other global threats. The success of the Stewardship Skills Youth Summer Camp supported by OneReef last year has set the foundation for ongoing camps and classes. In the summer of 2021, OneReef supported and facilitated two different Stewardship Skills camps for youth which are helping preserve and pass on traditional knowledge.

In April 2021, Hatohobei (Tobi) state (Palau), with the support of the Ebiil Society and OneReef, conducted an 8-day Youth Summer Camp which included one and a half days at Helen Reef, a remote atoll and Marine Protected Area. The goal of this Summer Camp was to educate the youth on the function and the importance of establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). OneReef worked with Helen Reef Program Director Rosania Victor to design the activities and also provided some of the supplies and funding. Eight students participated in this Youth Summer Camp with a couple of parent volunteer chaperones. The students were all from Tobi and Sonsorol communities, some from their village in Koror state and some from Tobi island. During their time on Helen Reef, the youth learned about the rules and regulations of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the environment and geography of the island, and the cultural significance of Helen Reef as a fishing ground of their ancestors. They visited Helen Reef and were shown the area covered under the MPA. At night, they accompanied the Helen Reef rangers to monitor turtle nesting and tagging. They snorkeled on the patch reefs and saw some of the underwater marine species. As part of the reforestation initiative, the youth planted 500 seedlings donated by the Ebiil Society. About 96% of the seedlings that were planted survived during the one-month observation.

In July 2021, a month-long Stewardship Skills camp was held for the youth of the Sonsorol and Tobi communities. The program was a partnership between OneReef and the Sonsorol and Hatohobei states to build the next generation of island stewards. Last year, OneReef supported a similar Youth Program in Sonsorol state but this is the first time for these three organizations to work together to preserve the traditional knowledge that is rapidly being lost.

Thirty-five students and nine elders participated in this camp. An opening ceremony was held on the first day. Opening remarks were given by both the Sonsorol Governor and the Hatohobei Lt. Governor followed by inspirational speeches by members of the Senate. The objective of the camp was to build the foundation of stewardship skills and traditional values such as respect, integrity, humility, and spirituality. The participants learned about surveillance and enforcement, Traditional House and Canoe, weaving, and underground cooking. The Elders taught the students how to weave a variety of things from the coconut leaves: thatch roof, fan, rice ball, basket, crown, and ball. The students learned about the specific parts and functions of a traditional house and canoe, and how to make different knots for securing canoes and making house roofs typhoon-worthy. They learned the geography and topography of their islands by constructing 3D models. The students experienced office work including how to input and retrieve data on the computer, conduct interviews, and write newsletters and social media posts.  Under the supervision of the Elders, the students built a traditional underground oven and cooked a traditional meal. They also learned traditional first aid using local plants.  The camp was a physically and mentally demanding program but as a result, the participants grasped the skills well enough to be able to teach other people in the community! The camp culminated with a 3-day retreat in a beautiful nature setting near a church in the Eastern part of the island where the students and Elders could relax, get in touch with their inner spirit and recharge physically and spiritually.